How to Convincingly Intentionally Lose to a Kid in 1-on-1 Basketball

Your little 8-year-old nephew Cody wants to play you in a game of one-on-one basketball, legitimately believing he has a chance to win. “I’ve been practicing every day!” the boy remarks, as he dribbles the ball between his legs in a cocky manner. “Come on, you and me, one-on-one!” There’s no doubt Cody could be a good basketball player someday, but that day isn’t today. Out of shape, out of practice, and horrible at sports in general, you—a full-grown, physically abled adult—are still going to destroy this kid with even a half-hearted effort.

You have a difficult choice to make:

  1. Proceed to legitimately play Cody at full-strength and knock the living snot out of him, crushing his spirit and likely his dreams of playing basketball.
  2. Intentionally lose the game, causing Cody to either celebrate in glee, or realize you’re letting him win, also crushing his spirits.
  3. Don’t play.

(There is also, of course, the minuscule chance that you play Cody full-strength and he’s as good as advertised and beats you. But we’ll assume he’s not the second coming of Kevin Garnett for right now.)

99% of adults that agree to play the child in a one-on-one game of basketball are going to opt to let the child win. A typical game of one-on-one will be determined by the first player to score 10 points—each basket counting for a single point, and a traditional 3-pointer counting for 2.

But how do you throw a game and make it appear convincing to the child? Glad you asked!

  • Play wearing jeans, or other clothing items that would seemingly hinder your ability to run, bend, jump, and play at 100%. “Ugh, if I was wearing athletic shorts and shoes instead of these overalls and cowboy boots, I’d be smoking you right now you little punk!”
  • Take lots of long-range shots. They don’t have a very good chance of going in.
  • Don’t make a great effort for any rebounds. Let Cody chase down all the loose balls.
  • Build an early lead. Scoring a few lay-ups early on to take a 3-0 lead will show Cody you meant business, at least at the beginning before you broke down.
  • Tire easily… which you probably will do anyway. After that early lead, you suddenly keel over and start letting him breeze by you while you huff and puff and gasp for breath.
  • Talk trash. “Not in MY house, Cody!” you yell as you wag your finger after a crushing blocked shot.
  • Let your comparatively large frame hinder your ability to guard him. Let him dribble right around you as you bend over, swinging your arms to and fro like an ape.
  • If ever in danger of winning the game, fake a hamstring injury while jumping. Again, not totally out of the equation as something that could actually happen to you anyway!
  • Above all, show some emotion. Get angry when he scores. Slam the ball into the ground and mutter to yourself when you miss an easy lay-up. Nothing sells “I swear, I’m really trying to do well” like you getting mad.
  • But never over-sell. The second Cody believes that he’s too good for you, and he starts letting you win, you’ve now entered a horrible head game where you’re both trying to fool each other.
  • Make sure the final score is tight. Cody winning 10-1 is a sure sign you were never trying. Either that, or he now thinks you’re horrible and has lost all respect for you.

“I win! I win!” yells Cody as he sinks the uncontested lay-up for the 10-8 victory. “Wow, you’re too good for me, Cody!” you say, attempting to catch your breath.

This may have worked to boost the boy’s confidence in the moment, but never let it get to his head! He may believe he’s better than he really is, which could easily backfire when he plays his peers. Explain to him that he just beat a slow, old, out-of-shape, poorly dressed adult five times his age, but the kids at school are going to be way better.

Not convinced that’s the way to go? Join the 1% of the population who plays full-bore and beats Cody mercilessly! He’s 8. You’re a grown-up. Without much effort, you can easily block every shot, steal the ball from him constantly, and muscle your way to basket after basket. There’s no reason you can’t win 10-0, especially if you play “make it, take it”, where the scorer gets the ball back. It will no doubt be tough for Cody, but the takeaway could be that he needs to keep working really hard at his game.

What about you? Have you ever played your child, niece, nephew, or grandchild in a game of one-on-one and intentionally played like crap so as not to hurt their feelings? Let us know in the comments!

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My Hot Take:
I haven’t recently played a child in basketball, but if I were to, I’d choose to win or lose on a case-by-case basis. If the child clearly is super cocky and a bit of a bully, I’d make sure to win. If the child has a fragile personality and could cry and quit if they fell behind, I’d lose. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution to a problem like this!

Let the kid win in a game of one-on-one basketball, but don’t make it super obvious that you’re losing on purpose.

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